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Inquirer Daily News

Archive: April, 2011

POSTED: Friday, April 29, 2011, 12:24 PM

Remember the old joke about the definition of chutzpah, a Yiddish word that's basically gall-in-extreme?  The story is that a young man murders his parents. Then he pleads for mercy from the court - because, after all, he's an orphan.

There's a little of that in the latest argument put forward by the financial industry as it tries to defend the ability to charge an average of 44 cents per debit-card transaction now that the Federal Reserve - following the dictates of the Dodd-Frank financial reform, and the so-called "Durbin Rule" - has concluded that a fee of about 12 cents would be "reasonable and proportional" to banks' actual costs. (I blogged yesterday about this here.)

Today, Cheyenne Hopkins raises a question in the American Banker: Will Durbin Rule Make Data Less Secure?

POSTED: Thursday, April 28, 2011, 3:50 PM

While the nation worries about important stuff like wars, joblessness, and, um, Obama's birth certificate, what should Congress worry about? If the nation's banks get their way, the answer is an odd one: debit-card fees.

Many of us thought the problem was solved last year in the Dodd-Frank financial reform, which directed the Federal Reserve to limit the fees, rising for years as Visa, MasterCard and the big banks have increasingly come to dominate the so-called interchange business.

The law directed the Fed to limit the fees, which average about 44 cents per transaction, to levels that are “reasonable and proportional to the cost incurred by the issuer.” The Fed's tentative conclusion, due to take effect later this year, was that a limit of 12 cents per transaction seemed about right, at least for a start. The regulation only applies to financial institutions with $10 billion or more in assets.

POSTED: Tuesday, April 26, 2011, 9:02 AM
Simulation of crash into Nissan Leaf

No single factor determines how well a car will protect its occupants if the worst happens.  Smart engineering and design can make a smaller car safer. Bad design can eliminate the inherent advantage enjoyed by occupants of larger vehicles.

But you can't repeal the laws of physics. And that could be one reason why two all-electric vehicles, the Chevrolet Volt and the Nissan Leaf, performed especially well in crash tests made public today by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

The nonprofit insurance-industry group suggests that the vehicles are helped by an unexpected factor: the extra mass of the cars' heavy battery packs.

POSTED: Tuesday, April 19, 2011, 1:30 PM

If you surf the Web, you've probably encountered the ubiquitous fake-news websites that promote "Acai Berry" diet products, posing as news organizations with titles such as “News 6 News Alerts,” “Health News Health Alerts” or even "Consumer Reports."

One familiar headline: "Acai Berry Diet Exposed: Miracle Diet or Scam?" The sub-headline says: “As part of a new series: ‘Diet Trends: A look at America’s Top Diets’ we examine consumer tips for dieting during a recession.”

If you clicked and looked closely, you might have figured out that the sites were fake - just advertising videos touting a nonprescription dietary supplement.  And that's the real scam, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

POSTED: Wednesday, April 13, 2011, 11:19 AM

The new CFPB survived the latest budget deal, though Democrats agreed that it would be subjected to two annual audits, according to the "On the Money" blog at the Hill. Undoubtedly that will save a bunch of taxpayer dollars.

The new agency is charged with protecting consumers in part to help prevent a repeat of the out-of-control lending that preceded the 2008 financial collapse. It won't be fully functional till July, but it already has an active website, ConsumerFinance.gov, that's worth checking out if you're curious.

Still, opponents such as House Speaker John Boehner can't resist sniping. The Hill says Boehner's office touted the deal this way yesterday:

POSTED: Tuesday, April 12, 2011, 10:47 AM

Like many of us, Consumers Unions has been skeptical from the start about the wisdom of allowing AT&T to swallow up T-Mobile, reducing the number of national wireless carriers from four to three. In a letter to Congress, the consumer group is urging close scrutiny of the proposed $39 billion deal.

Citing its own recent price and customer-satisfaction surveys, Consumers Union told Congress:

A price analysis survey of the voice and data plans available from AT&T and T-Mobile demonstrates that T-Mobile wireless plans typically cost $15 to $50 less per month than comparable plans from AT&T. That finding supports anecdotal observations that T-Mobile is generally a lower-priced carrier than AT&T. It also validates concerns that T-Mobile subscribers eventually migrating to AT&T plans could pay more for service than they would have under a T-Mobile plan—and that T-Mobile’s departure from the wireless market would eliminate a relatively low-cost carrier as an option for consumers.

POSTED: Thursday, April 7, 2011, 6:22 PM

Today's Tech Life column offered five suggestions for avoiding phishing - or at least for avoiding getting hooked by the scammers who try to steal your personal data via bogus emails meant to con you into volunteering it. You can't really avoid the emails, but like a wise old sea creature, you can at least avoid biting.

The most important advice - as the tech savvy already know - is simply to not trust the links that come in any email, unless you are truly certain of its origins. The recent security breach at Epsilon Data Management has raised the likelihood that you'll be getting "spear-phished" - hit with phishing emails specifically targeted to customers of 50 or so particular banks or businesses whose data were compromised.  (Click here for a list.)

As I assembled today's short list of tips, I spoke with phishing and Internet security experts, and also with David M. Nicol, the professor of computer and electrical engineering who heads the University of Illinois' highly respected Information Trust Institute.

About this blog

Jeff Gelles, who writes the Inquirer's weekly Consumer 14.0 and Tech Life columns, takes a broad look at the marketplace of goods, services, and ideas.

Reach Jeff at jgelles@phillynews.com.

Jeff Gelles Inquirer Business Columnist
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